I’m a foodie. I’ve tried not to be but frankly, food just ends up in my mouth regardless – especially Indian food. It was the sights, sounds and cookery puzzles that initially drew me to Venba on its first trailer. The idea that a story would be told through cultural cooking sounded right up my street. What I wasn’t prepared for was that the story would be the thing that left the longer mark on me. It’s a cleverly told tale that gave a few soft emotional punches to nurse.
Venba and her husband are immigrants in Canada struggling to get by when Venba falls pregnant with her son Kavin. The story follows the trio over several decades and this is where the subtle depth of the story telling comes in. Each chapter is a time jump to see how the family dynamics have changed and each moment involves the family kitchen where someone will end up whipping up a batch of something as a footnote of celebration, love, sadness or occasion. About 60-70% of Venba will be spent in the story and whilst some dialogue choices are available, the story is a linear one.
Where Venba’s story stands out is that family life is framed against the generational day-to-day problems that immigrants have. Venba want to pass on the culture of her homeland but Kavin feels closer to the Western world and so the two are often at odds with subtle digs. Meanwhile Paavalan, Venba’s husband is so focused on trying to get money in with low paying jobs as his skills aren’t recognised in a different country, he starts to become an introverted shell of himself. It is so well done and really opened my eyes to a different perspective. Games can do that better than any other medium and Venba is a fine example of such storytelling. It doesn’t dwell, but gives a lot of subtle nuance to everyone’s plight.
Each chapter has a cooking puzzle and they are not simple quick time events. Instead you need to decipher Venba’s mothers cookery book of notes and passed down recipes. This usually boils down to working out the order of ingredient to cook, chop, mix or sieve. Whilst they aren’t difficult and are mostly drag and drop controls for easy playing, I appreciated that each one tried a different way of being a puzzle. I would have loved a few more in the game to be honest, along with some actual recipes alongside the flavour text for each dish. The secret sauce to the cooking puzzles are the soundtrack. Once in the kitchen, the radio gets flicked on and here Venba’s Tamil soundtrack shines. It is a mixture of Tamil pop and traditional pieces but they are as vibrant and soulful as the graphics and food on screen. It really adds to Venba’s authenticity.
I have one minor critique of Venba that has two effects on the game. Venba is a 90 minute experience, perhaps two hours if you are a slower reader. I’m a fan of shorter but impactful experiences so this isn’t an issue in itself. However between time jumps for chapters some huge things happen to Venba’s family and I feel like glossing over these really makes the shorter run time stand out. I’d have loved a couple more chapters on some of the hidden events in the game that take place off screen to fully round out the experience.
It is a minor quibble though. My time with Venba was superb. Its storytelling and emotional impact is effortless and its dive into generational immigrant life was eye opening without being clumsy or wooden. When speaking on tricky topics, writers often tell rather than show and I’m delighted Venba shows and lets it sit with you. It reminds me tonally of Studio Ghibli storytelling. There are lots of subtle details for those watching closely. Fantastic and scrummy.
A marvellous story, delicately told in a way that lands its points without slapping you in the face with them. Also made me very hungry.
Beautifully told story.
Vibrant art style with plenty of unique traits and ideas.
No cooking puzzle is the same and they're fun to dive into.
Superb Tamil soundtrack.
A couple of plot omissions that I was surprised to see skipped, which contribute to the brevity being quite noticeable.
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